Driving instructors identify top teen mistakes behind the wheel


AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) – Car crashes remain a leading cause of death for teenagers, and this week, AAA is working to raise awareness of the top mistakes to help keep more teens safe on the road.

This is Teen Driver Safety Week, and AAA is cautioning parents that their involvement is key to preventing deadly mistakes behind the wheel.

AAA recently conducted a survey of driving instructors, including some from Western New York, and identified the top three mistakes teens make when learning to drive:

  • Speeding: Traveling over posted speed limits or too fast for road conditions.
  • Distraction: Interacting with a cell phone, talking with passengers or looking at other objects in the vehicle.
  • Poor Visual Scanning: Driving with tunnel vision and not properly scanning the road for risks or hazards.

Ryan Sennett, 16, tells News 4 he’s come a long way since he got his permit in June, but he knows he still has to work on some of those skills. “Sometimes I forget my signals or sometimes I’m not looking too far down the road,” he admitted.

Sennett was working to improve his driving as he practiced in a car with AAA Driver Training Instructor Gail Michaels Wednesday morning. “With teen drivers, I see a lot of nervousness,” Michaels said. “They really don’t have a clue when they first get behind that wheel, so our job is to first calm them down, go step by step. It’s a building process.”

Michaels says it’s critical for parents to lead by example when they’re in the car with their teen drivers, modeling the behaviors they want their teens to follow. Sixty-five percent of driving instructors surveyed by AAA reported that parents today are worse at preparing their teens to drive compared to a decade ago.

One of the biggest problems for those parents is distracted driving. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found 77 percent of drivers aged 35-55 reported talking on a cell phone while driving. Parents need to make a conscious decision to model the driving habits they want their teens to have.

“There’s a lot of stuff you learn about yourself and with a teen by not doing bad habits and showing him the good habits and wanting him to be a better driver,” James Sennett, Ryan’s father, said.

AAA recommends parents stay actively involved in coaching their teens through the learning to drive process by having conversations early and regularly about the dangers of speeding and distraction; taking the time to practice driving with their teens in different conditions; adopting and enforcing a parent-teen driving agreement that sets family rules for the road; and leading by example and minimizing distractions and speeding when they’re driving.

You can find more advice to help keep your teen safe on the road on AAA’s website: http://teendriving.aaa.com/NY/

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